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Nicholas Dopfel

Graduated in: December 2006
Degree: BS Aviation Maintenance Management
Other degree: AS Aviation Technology
Current Employer: Continental Motors Group
Position: OEM Account and U.S. / International Field Service Representative

Describe the process of choosing your major.

I earned my private pilot certificate while in high school and was hooked on airplanes and flying.  I actually started out enrolling in the Professional Pilot program at K-State Salina.  I decided that it would be a good idea to have my FAA Airframe and PowerPlant certificate to compliment me as a professional pilot to get started in a corporate pilot position.  So, about a week before school started, I switched to the maintenance program with the intention to go on to complete the Professional Pilot Bachelor’s degree later.  I ended up loving aircraft maintenance so much that I stayed with the maintenance program and eventually earned my Bachelors in Aircraft Maintenance. Flying became and still is my hobby instead of my career.

Did you complete an internship or have related work experience prior to receiving your job?

While attending K-State at Salina, I worked part-time at Yingling Aviation on the weekends as a Line Service Technician fueling and servicing aircraft.  Many times, I assisted the on-call weekend mechanics fix drop in aircraft.  Yingling was absolutely an outstanding and professional introduction to aviation employment.

Describe the process of finding your first job.

K-State at Salina was very pro-active in building relationships with local and regional aviation employers.  In particular, a Cessna Aircraft Human Resource recruiter was invited to Salina and I got specific information on what they were looking for.  I applied, interviewed and was hired for a Production Test Flight Mechanic position at Cessna Aircraft approximately 90 days before I graduated. 

Briefly describe a typical day at your job.

Currently I work for Continental Motors Group – Aircraft Engines of Mobile, AL.  I am currently based in Wichita, Kansas as a U.S. & International Field Service Representative and OEM Factory Account Representative.  I represent Continental Motors to our Wichita, KS based aircraft OEM customers, providing onsite technical support assistance.  My entire job description is “make our customers happy.”  This entails doing whatever it takes to provide outstanding customer and technical support to the aircraft factories.  While at Continental, I have traveled all over the United States, Japan and China.  I don’t have a typical day.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

What I enjoy the most about my job is the company I work for and the supervision I am under.  Continental Motors is the most outstanding organization I have worked for.  A family oriented company and a management team that goes to great lengths to ensure that I meet my professional and personal goals while also having time for my family. 

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Telling customers what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear.  Some of the recommendations I make to customers are not cheap, but I have to give customers the hard truth because in Aviation, people’s lives can be at stake.  Regardless of cost, the job has to be done right for safety. 

What advice would you give someone interested in your field?

My best advice is to complete your FAA certifications such as Airframe, Powerplant and Inspection Authorization.  It is difficult to convince employer’s you have the necessary skills and knowledge if you don’t have the certifications.  Also, professionalism is lacking among mechanics and maintenance professionals.  Customers who bring in multi-million dollar aircraft for service expect mechanics working on their investment to be qualified to do the work but also look the part as well. 

What were the stepping stones that led to your current career?

I have started out as an A&P mechanic working on customer aircraft and getting to know the aircraft makes and models as an expert.  Over time, I continually moved into higher responsibility maintenance positions within the factory service center and eventually became an AOG (Aircraft on Ground) on call mechanic interacting with customers all over the country.  This naturally led into my current position as a OEM Account & Factory Field Service Representative.

Has your career path taken any unconventional turns that you never would have expected?

Before graduating from K-State, I had a desire to work for the airlines on large aircraft.  My career ended up going the other direction into small General Aviation and corporate/business aircraft.  I’m thrilled that it went the direction it did.  I have had well rounded experiences and my current career path has no limits.

What tips do you have for current undergrads about opportunities they should definitely take advantage of while they are in school?

While at K-State earning my degree, I took as many elective aviation courses as I possibly could.  I wanted to give myself at least an introduction and basic background knowledge in as many areas as I could since I didn’t know specifically which area of aviation I would be able to find employment.  For example, I took special classes in: Helicopter Maintenance, Advanced Composite Structures and Non-Destructive Inspection. 

Was there a specific person in college who had a significant impact on your life or career?

I don’t believe that the high school I attend prepared me properly for college in the subject of algebra.  My college algebra teacher was a local math teacher in the Salina Public School system.  She was patient and did an amazing job re-teaching me basic math concepts I should have learned in high school.  Due to her outstanding instruction and help, I went from being a failing math student to cruising through college level trigonometry, general physics and business calculus.  I owe my ability to complete my bachelors to her.  I believe K-State does better than the average college in hiring faculty with experience and teaching qualities than many other universities I looked at. 

Do you keep in touch with your college classmates? How have those relationships influenced your career?

I do actually keep in touch with many college classmates.  Over time, this definitely becomes more difficult due to a busy schedule, classmates changing careers and locations.  Keeping in touch with my classmates gives me a great perspective on different areas of aviation that I have never been employed in.